By Ryan Lau | @agorisms
In 2016, a woman gave birth to the first ever baby with three parents. Yes, you read that correctly. After a Jordanian couple lost two children to the fatal Leigh Syndrome, a disease in the mitochondrial DNA, they sought out Professor John Zhang of the New Hope Fertility Center in New York, who worked on the case in Mexico due to legal complications in his home country.
The DNA of Three Parents
Soon after, the scientist set out to produce a healthy baby for the two. But interestingly, the solution actually came from the inclusion of a third. With a process called pronuclear transfer, Zhang injected healthy mitochondria from a female donor into the mother’s egg cell. Then, he fertilized the egg and sperm, creating a genetically unique human being from three parents and their DNA.
Two years later, that child is over a year old and living a healthy life. And the mother, who believed herself to be effectively infertile due to the fatal disease she carries, is raising her own, growing baby boy.
The genetic makeup of the boy is mostly that of the two parents. Of the over 20,000 genes found in the egg cell, only 37 of them are present in the mitochondria. Thus, replacing a damaged mitochondrion with a healthy one from another woman only inputs 37 of the donor’s genes into the baby.
Not long after the Mexican success story, a number of scientists from across the globe sought to reproduce the effects. By doing so, they believed they could help women with severe mitochondrial diseases be able to still have children.
Increased Awareness and Success
Most notably, efforts began in the United Kingdom and Ukraine. In fact, Doctor Valery Zukin, head of the Ukraine based Nadiya Clinic, boasts to have already helped create four babies in this method. He believes that his efforts are helpful to humanity, especially those who are not able to have their own children.
Speaking to NPR, Zukin pondered, “If you can help these families to achieve their own babies, why must it be forbidden? It is a dream to want to have a genetic connection with a baby.”
Zukin is likely talking about the countries, including the United States, that have banned the practice. In 2017, the FDA warned against the practice, stating they must run their own clinical trial before legalizing it. In a letter to Zhang, they declared that he may not continue his practices in the U.S.
Such actions have clearly not stopped Zhang, who now partners with Zukin in their joint company, DL-Nadiya. Zukin claims that through his institute, he now has three more pregnancies.
Across the continent, United Kingdom researchers today are in the process. This year, the U.K.’s Human Fertilisation and Embreology Authority (HFEA) approved two cases for Newcastle’s Fertility Center at Life to undertake.
This move marks the first time that a country officially sanctions this procedure. In the United States, the law forced the action south of the border. Zukin, on the other hand, has yet to face either approval or rejection from the Ukranian government.
These two British babies may be born to three parents as early as this year. Though they will not be the first to be born in this manner, it appears they also will be far from the last.
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